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City apprentice, disadvantaged worker projects totaled $83.8 million

Mark Parker

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St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch at a Supplier Diversity Day event in October. City officials are working to increase opportunities for apprentices, "disadvantaged" workers and minority and women-owned small businesses. Photo: City of St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg city officials are refining programs created to increase supplier and worker diversity in “major” construction projects ahead of the Historic Gas Plant District’s $6.5 billion redevelopment.

City council members comprising the Budget, Finance and Taxation Committee heard an annual update on the apprenticeship and disadvantaged worker program at its Dec. 7 meeting. The full council approved procurement and Small Business Enterprise (SBE) Program ordinance revisions hours later.

City administrators and the Tampa Bay Rays/Hines development team set a 20% minority and women-owned business participation threshold for the Gas Plant project – an over $500 million investment. While unrelated to the previously scheduled meetings, Community Benefits Advisory Council (CBAC) Chair Gypsy Gallardo publicly announced her resignation Dec. 7.

Gallardo believes local stakeholders are ill-prepared to capitalize on those opportunities, and she is now focusing on helping St. Petersburg achieve its equitable economic development goals.

“It’s city sourcing of the talent that’s needed,” Gallardo told the Catalyst. “What good does it do to negotiate even higher thresholds if we can’t achieve them?”

A graphic highlighting apprentice and disadvantaged worker program statistics. Office of Supplier Diversity officials expect to improve upon the past year’s totals in 2024. Screengrab.

According to the update, 16 contracts totaling $83.8 million qualified for the city’s workforce programs over the past year. Apprentices and disadvantaged employees completed 13% and 22%, respectively, of over 200,500 work hours.

Local ordinances did not apply to four state and federally-funded projects. The city apprenticeship program mandates that workers enrolled in state or company job training programs must complete 15% of work on construction projects totaling over $1 million.

Contractors must similarly utilize disadvantaged workers. City ordinance defines those as people with a criminal record, veterans, the homeless, residents of the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area (CRA), single parents, those without a GED or high school diploma and someone who received public assistance in the year preceding employment.

Background documents state that failure to comply “through utilization or demonstrating a good-faith effort” could result in “withholding of retainage and can include debarment from bidding on future City of St. Petersburg contracts.”

Program numbers have decreased. In 2022, apprentices and disadvantaged workers completed 26.7% and 53.2%, respectively, of work hours on projects totaling $84.6 million.

“Some projects don’t yet have their apprentices or disadvantaged workers on site yet,” said Kourey Hendryx-Bell, supplier diversity manager. “There’s a possibility for those numbers to increase.”

She said about 44% of city contract employees live in Pinellas County, with 9% residing in the South St. Pete CRA. Hendryx-Bell also noted that new reporting software would bolster future updates.

Councilmember Deborah Figgs-Sanders said she would like a hiring breakdown according to program qualifying categories. She also asked if the city offers a “holistic referral system” to help disadvantaged workers shed that label.

Stephanie Swinson, procurement director, said her office does not provide public outreach to those workers. However, staffers can direct contractors to related city-provided services.

Figgs-Sanders said upskilling the local talent pool would help residents “compete with others who are coming into the city. We really want to keep our citizens who are here, here,” she said.

The city council later approved several procurement and SBE program changes. Most notably, those included establishing a Business Equity Advisory Committee and increasing the contract threshold from $50,000 to $100,000 for bid discounts and sheltered market participation.

Sheltered market programs limit procurement competition for certified small businesses. In addition, the city council will only approve contracts totaling over $100,000.

City officials previously reduced that threshold to $75,000. However, Councilmember Copley Gerdes said the $25,000 difference added nine items to the average consent agenda.

“Things have become much more expensive,” said Chair Brandi Gabbard. “That threshold, in my opinion, needs to adjust based on what we’ve seen with various cost overruns and things like that.”

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Ryan Todd

    December 14, 2023at10:56 am

    Vets and criminals, together?
    From a veteran, get bent, Ken Welch.

  2. Avatar

    Mike

    December 12, 2023at9:11 am

    I also like the section which puts veterans and criminals in the same category. *chefs kiss*

  3. Avatar

    Mike

    December 12, 2023at9:00 am

    Just what the world needs : race quotas and gender quotas.

    Make’s perfect sense. Great job st Pete!

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